Sunday, 30 January 2011

Jurowski Das Klagende Lied, LPO

Vladimir Jurowski's third Mahler Das klagende Lied with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the South Bank was fun.  This time, it wasn't being recorded, but more relaxed, which is no bad thing with this work, which benefits from a whimsical touch.

The tenuous Mahler connection between the programmes on 26th (reviewed here) and 29th was dutifully marketed in Tuesday's mid concert talk, but the real reason for these programmes was that the LPO had planned to tour Hungary. The trip fell through but the programmes remained. This makes much more sense in musical terms.. The real focus was clearly on separate Austrian and Hungarian traditions. It also makes sense as the RFH debut of Barnabás Kelemen, the energetic young soloist in Bartók's Violin Concerto No 1 .And in programming terms, it reveals a much deeper inner logic, connecting dreams and atmospheric abstraction. Hooray - my faith in Jurowski is confirmed.

For Mahler's Das klagende Lied is almost more tone poem than cantata. Jurowski's wonderful in Das klagende Lied because his attention to detail and fine tuning enhances the Romantic glow.  Indeed, the text is a poem, and the soloists' parts don't exist as "parts" as such. Jurowski gets the atmospheric flow so well that it makes the strange storyline seem plausible. Magic, created from pure music.

Throughout the piece, there are echoes of Wagner, specifically snatches of Das Rheingold and Siegfried's Journey down the Rhine. Das klagende Lied tells of dishonesty and retribution, of young heroes who aren''t completely what they seem. Mahler isn't borrowing in a haphazard romantic way but deftly using the references to expand what he's writing. "Pop up windows" in a sense because they open out onto wider vistas. In essence, he's already exploring the idea of embedding song in symphony. An experienced listener will also pick out snippets that will form Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Mahler's Symhony no 1.

It's a fundamentally different approach to writing music that unfolds as narrative. There are many references, especially in the choral parts, to Carl Maria von Weber, another of Mahler's heroes.  Weber's operas are wonderful as music but not frequently performed as they're not specially stageworthy. The drama is in the music itself. Already Mahler is using musical form as theatre in itself, without needing to go down the opera route. The solo parts are subsumed into the orchestra like extended instrumental colour. The choruses are full of character. Individual pairs of singers stand out from the ensemble, giving depth and connecting with the soloists. Two trebles add an otherworldly eeriness. An off stage orchestra is heard from afar, reinforcing the idea of two worlds co-existing, reality and the supernatural.

Royal Festival Hall acoustics do not favour solo singers. Oddly enough, it helps when they're positioned above the orchestra rather than arrayed in front, even if they have to sing over the orchestra. Melanie Diener, Christianne Stotijn, Michael König and Christopher Purves were very good, but the London Philharmonic Choir augmented by members of the Glyndebourne Opera Chorus, were extremely good. Since Das klagende Lied depends so much on a good chorus, they certainly helped make this performance a success. Less so the positioning of the off stage orchestra. Playing in the Green Bar, sometimes with the doors to the auditorium closed, isn't ideal. No matter how good the players were, the effect was unnatural. Positioning them in boxes is often a better solution.

More on Ligeti, Kelemen and Bartók in a longer, more detailed version of this will shortly appear in Bachtrack, an excellent database for keeping your concert and opera diary up to date.(NOT all Bach!)  If Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony is of interest there's lots on this site about it because I've ;loved it and lived with it many years. Please use search butten, too many different posts.

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